Insights for Destination & Leisure Marketers

Walt Disney: Content Marketing Genius Since 1954

content marketing strategy - disney

As you mull over your content marketing strategy, take time out to tip your hat to Walt, a true pioneer of tourist attraction marketing. This is a man who not only used content marketing to get people excited about Disneyland before it even opened its doors; he made one of the most interesting deals in history to get it done.

“What?” you ask. “The Internet didn’t exist in 1954.”

And you’d be right. But content marketing has existed since long before you were born, my friend. John Deere is considered the first brand to take a stab at it – back in the late 1800s.

So Disney wasn’t the first. But what he did was brilliant.

In order to create the most magical theme park the world had ever seen, Disney needed financing. He approached ABC, and they either decided to take a huge risk or knew Disney had what it would take for success. The deal was made.

ABC agreed to invest in the construction of Disneyland in California and carry a new show called “Disneyland” – a hodgepodge of episodes that began with the story of Disneyland and showed its construction. Then they added edited theatrical releases, original programming, documentaries on natural history, behind-the-scenes clips at Disney studios, and the popular Davy Crockett miniseries, perhaps the first miniseries ever made. What did ABC get? Partial ownership of Disneyland.

The first episode ran on October 27, 1954. It was more promotional than entertaining, but it was the start of a content marketing program that would last for many years in one form or another (including Wonderful World of Disney).

Opening Day for Disneyland, the theme park, was July 17, 1955. And while it did not run particularly smoothly (what was supposed to be a media-only opening turned into mayhem when 17,000 uninvited guests showed up with counterfeit tickets), you can definitely say Disney’s content marketing strategy was successful at driving interest in the park. For the public opening the following day, there were people already lined up to enter Disneyland’s gates in the wee hours of morning.

What Disney proved is that it’s not enough to just “do” content marketing. He had a strategic vision that was very carefully crafted and executed by his dedicated and very talented team.

Whatever obstacles he ran into on Opening Day (which at the time was known internally as Black Sunday at Disney headquarters), it looks like he’s worked out the kinks pretty well over the last few decades.